Hit Show became the latest three-year-old from the Brad Cox barn to jump onto the Kentucky Derby (G1) leaderboard with a resounding victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. Sent off as the 1.30-1 favorite in his stakes debut, the Gary and Mary West homebred overwhelmed pacesetter Arctic Arrogance and drew away by 5 1/2 lengths.
The 1 1/8-mile Withers was postponed one week after adverse weather canceled the Feb. 4 card. But the field remained nearly the same, except for the addition of Jungfrau. As it turned out, he never factored anyway, and the top two on paper furnished the exacta on the racetrack.
The newly-blinkered Arctic Arrogance, who drew the rail, sped to the lead through fractions of :23.53, :48.09, and 1:13.43. Hit Show was tucked a few lengths off the pace on the inside, and the only question was when jockey Manny Franco would be able to angle out. Early stalkers Prove Right and Andiamo couldn’t maintain their positions, so the door was ajar leaving the far turn.
Once Hit Show saw daylight, the outcome was inevitable. The gray son of Candy Ride and the Grade 2-winning Tapit mare gathered momentum, rolled past Arctic Arrogance in a final time of 1:54.71, and banked his first 20 Derby points.
“The horse helped me a lot,” Franco said. “He had a clean break. He broke so sharp out of there and put me in a perfect position. I wanted to be fourth or fifth and I was following the right horse (Arctic Arrogance), and I was so happy with the position. When it was time to move, he was there for me. He responded really well and got the job done.
“I had to wait a little longer because I had the seven-horse (Andiamo a Firenze) outside. So, I stayed there following the one (Arctic Arrogance) and when I saw he tired, I moved out and my horse responded really well.”
“He’s a little green,” Franco continued. “He’s learning race by race and I think he’ll be OK. I think the more distance the better for him. I put my hands down [in the gallop out] and I didn’t pull on him. I just let him gallop out and he kept going around. I had to pull him up to make him stop.”
Arctic Arrogance added eight points, doubling his total to 16, including runner-up efforts in the Remsen (G2) and Jerome S. Trainer Linda Rice and jockey Jose Lezcano suspect that he’s more effective at a mile. If that puts a dent in his classic aspirations, it increases his chances in the Mar. 4 Gotham (G3).
“He ran a very good race, but the distance might be a little much for him,” Lezcano said. “He would be a little better going a mile. He handled the pressure up front pretty well. He’s a very nice horse and he got beat by a nice horse.”
“I have felt that he might be more of a miler,” Rice said. “After today’s effort, if things had gone better, I would have probably skipped the Gotham and gone to the Wood (Memorial [G2]). But Jose (Lezcano) and I were just chatting and I think he may be better at a flat mile, so we may go ahead and run in the Gotham.”
Another 6 1/4 lengths adrift in third came General Banker, who picked up six points for a total of nine. There was a 14 1/4-length chasm back to Andiamo a Firenze (four points to increase his haul to seven), followed by Prove Right (two points). Far back in the strung-out field were Jungfrau and the eased Ninetyprcentmaddie, who walked off the course.
Hit Show improved his record to 4-3-0-0, $264,275. An impressive debut winner at Keeneland, the Kentucky-bred was a slow-starting fourth in a key allowance on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” card at Churchill Downs. The winner, Confidence Game, was only third in the Lecomte (G3), but runner-up Rocket Can came back to land the Holy Bull (G3). Hit Show himself rebounded in a Dec. 17 allowance at Oaklawn Park, putting himself into the Derby prep picture.
“I just liked the way the Withers was coming up,” Cox said of the decision to point for Aqueduct. “I thought he fit well with the group. Obviously, he was 6-5, so everybody else thought so, too. It actually worked out well delaying the race a week, as we had a little bit of an issue getting (a flight) out of Memphis. We would have made the race last week, but we would have been close on getting there in time.”
Given the array of options going forward, and his other Derby chess pieces, Cox could not confirm Hit Show for the Apr. 8 Wood Memorial (G2). But his proficiency over the track and trip is a definite plus.
“I’m going to talk it over with the Wests and we’ll make a decision,” the trainer said. “He’ll go back to Belmont tonight and chill out there for a while and recover, and we’ll come up with a game plan for him.
“It very well could be the Wood Memorial. He obviously likes the racetrack there and we’ll see how things go.”